Analogue Music | Joshua Radin

Joshua Radin

By Matt Conner

'Here, Right Now' was inspired by his deficiencies.

On the eve of recording writing another full-length album, his eighth, singer-songwriter Joshua Radin admits the creative cupboards were bare. Typically, he says, songwriting is like a poison that's desperate to come out. This time around, he waited and waited. Nothing came.

In order to reach the muse (or vice versa) for the songs on Here, Right Now, Radin relocated to Spain for a spell and decided to focus on, of all things, his deficiencies. He wanted to face them head on, to look deeply inward and reflect on the weakest parts of himself. If songwriting is a healing act, then why not apply that salve internally.

The good news is that the experiment worked beautifully. Fears of a chaotic future gave rise to hopeful anthems. Distracted living gave way to songs rooting him in the present. On this side of his latest album, Radin is centered and focused and ready to vulnerably share these stories with his longtime fans.

Analogue: You're en route to Idaho at the moment. Do you enjoy this part of the cycle the most? Are you more wired for the "retreat and write" part more than the "put yourself out there" part?

Joshua Radin: I would say I really do love all parts—the writing, the recording, the touring—but if I had to choose, I like the writing the most.

Analogue: If that's the part that you love, did you approach this round differently from previous seasons when you know it's time to prepare another recording?

Joshua: I took a break from the last album in terms of writing. I was waiting around to be inspired. Some time had passed and I wasn't really feeling it. I wasn't feeling this need to get my thoughts out or to have people hear them, so I went to Spain and found a remote little place. I holed up there by myself and started really looking inward. I found some real deficiencies within me, so that's what I felt I needed to write about, because for me, the writing process is really a cathartic one. It's my therapy.

Credit: Shervin Lainez
Credit: Shervin Lainez

In this particular case, I started thinking about how I had so much anxiety about the future and what was going to happen to the world, my family, me, my friends. I was consumed with these thoughts about what would happen next in these capacities. I wanted to change that, so I thought to myself, 'I'm going to write a song about enjoying the moment I'm in and being present.' That's something I've never been able to do so well. I thought if I wrote a song about that, then every time I played it, it would reinforce that idea in my mind—that I need to enjoy where I'm at and not think so much about what comes next.

So I wrote this song called "Here, Right Now" and that ended up being the title track of the album, because that's how the album started and what it ended up mostly being about. It's about being in the moment.

Analogue: I want to walk in a couple doors you opened. Can you take us to before you went to Spain? You've been through this writing cycle enough times to know songs are always there for you at some point, right? Or is that not necessarily true?

Joshua: You live with that creative fear. Every person does. I've talked to a lot of people who do what I do or write plays or paint paintings or write novels or whatever it is that you do creatively, and everyone has that little fear in the back of their mind. For me, it's even worse than that. After every song I write, I always feel like I'll never be able to write another song and that's always the case. [Laughs] Through eight albums and hundreds of songs, it's still inescapable as of yet.

I've read interviews and watched documentaries on other artists I love, and when they talk about that subject, they go through something similar. It's daunting but at least there's comfort knowing that everyone goes through it. But it's also necessary and I wouldn't want it any other way. When you do write a song and finish one you really like, for me, there's no better feeling in the world.

"After every song I write, I always feel like I'll never be able to write another song and that's always the case. [Laughs] Through eight albums and hundreds of songs, it's still inescapable as of yet."

Analogue: Which song on the new set best exemplifies that proud feeling?

Joshua: Well, it would be that first one I mentioned because it came after a dearth of creativity. That was the world opened up again in my mind. From there, I had an easier time with the rest of them.

Analogue: By the way, why Spain? Are you pretty affected by your environment?

Joshua: I am, but most of my songs have actually been written on the couch wherever I live. But sometimes travel can really help inspire me. It's meeting new people, being surrounded by people I don't know and having conversations with people I don't know. Spain is just one of my favorite places. It's just so beautiful. The people are so lovely and the food is delicious. The weather is just great. I recommend it highly to anyone who hasn't been.

Analogue: Earlier you said you were inspired by your deficiencies so you dove into it as a songwriter. That's so intriguing to me, because I know the most unhealthy thing for me would be facing my deficiencies in that way—to think on them deeply while alone. That would drive me further into my anxiety or depressive state. For you, it was healing.

Joshua: I didn't grow up wanting to be a performer at all. I got a guitar when I was 30, learned a few chords, and started writing songs. All the things I did creatively before that—painting, screenwriting—I was always more interested in being creative behind the scenes, not on a stage under bright lights. I never craved that. So when I started writing music, I didn't have any interest in playing those songs for people. I fell into it and had to learn how to play in front of people.

So when I started writing songs, it was all for the healing. If I was going through a breakup or whatever, it was like writing in a journal or diary. It was the catharsis. It's still that way for me. I do this all for myself. It's completely selfish. One of the great things that's come from that selfishness is 15 years of touring around the world and meeting people and seeing how it's affected them. That tends to keep me going, so now that's a huge factor as well.

When I'm touring, it's for everybody else. When I'm writing, that's the selfish part I described. If I feel something I need to get out of me, it feels like a poison that I need to get out. I'll be laying in bed at night with this melody in my head and it just won't go away. I have to pick up the guitar at four in the morning and write it out. Otherwise it will drive me mad.

For touring, it's pretty much the exact opposite. Once you've recorded the album and you're happy with it and it's out, then it's fun to travel and live this life and make a living doing what you love to do and not having to have a real job, but it becomes more selfless because you're away from home and family. You're out there all over the place trying to make connections with people, trying to help them feel something.

Analogue: Do you still chase some of those creative pursuits that you used to—the painting, the screenwriting?

Joshua: [Pause] Every now and again. But 15 years ago when I started playing music, before that, I'd tried all these things creatively seeking an audience. It just didn't work out. So I'd done the whole starving artist in New York thing for 10 years. I'd lived on five bucks a day for food. I'd wondered if anyone was ever going to make one of my movies or love a painting I did. Then when I started playing music, it was the first time I'd ever done anything creatively where the audience just came to me organically. I didn't seek them out at all. Right away I was like, 'Oh, this feels like home'—creatively, I mean.

I was trying to do too much creatively before that and I think I was spreading myself too thin. When I finally focused, that's when I started feeling I could express myself in the most honest way possible and making myself as vulnerable as I possibly can. Which is how I try to write and how I try to live. That carried over from the writing. The way I am on stage during the show is a direct reflection of that vulnerability that I tap into as I write. I always feel like the more vulnerable I make myself, the more people can relate to my writing.

Analogue: Was that difficult at first or were you always into that exchange?

Joshua: Really, really hard. That's probably why it took me so long to even attempt it.

I always feel like the more vulnerable I make myself, the more people can relate to my writing.

Analogue: Do you remember the specific instance that you realized people were responding to the music?

Joshua: Oh, yeah. I wrote my first song and played it for my friend Zach Braff, who was on a show called Scrubs. No one had ever heard this song except the girl that I'd been living with in New York for six years. We'd gone through a rough patch and I was just thinking, 'I don't know how to tell her it's over.' So I started writing. I played it for Zach and he didn't even know I'd started playing music, even though we were such close friends. He said, 'The TV show is always looking for new music, especially from artists who aren't that well known. Why don't you make a demo and I'll give it to Bill Lawrence?' The song was called "Winter," and Bill was the executive producer and creator of the show.

So I was like, 'Sure.' I went into my friend's bedroom because he had a Pro Tools rig on his Mac. I recorded that song, just my vocal and guitar and then I sang harmony over it. I sent it to Bill Lawrence. He called me three weeks later and said, 'I love this song and I've got the perfect spot for it. Can I use it?' I was like, 'Are you kidding me? Of course that'd be amazing.'

The show aired and then it shut down the site. Bill called me and said the NBC website crashed due to so many people trying to find out where to get that song and who it was. Immediately, I just thought to myself, 'This is what I should be doing.' It's crazy. It's so lucky. When I started meeting other songwriters and musicians and I'd tell them the story, they'd sort of hate me for it. But I also have to explain that I'd just spent the last decade being a starving artist. It was just a different medium.

I think I honed my craft creatively or how to express myself and be more vulnerable that way, so by the time I started writing songs, it felt like I was really prepared for it. Even though it was the first song I'd written, I was already a writer.

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